Flash back to 2005. Tom DeLay was the Majority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, living in a safe Republican district, and poised to chart the course of American politics forever. DeLay was nicknamed “The Hammer” for his brutal efficiency as Majority whip, crushing all dissent from backbenchers and building a solid GOP coalition — a nickname that the fundamentalist DeLay endorses because “the hammer is one of the carpenter’s favorite tools.” In other words, Tom DeLay was a tool.
So what happened?
Fast forward to 2012. DeLay sits in his native Texas, awaiting appeal on corruption and money laundering charges. Why is it always the good ones?
For those who forgot, DeLay was convicted of illegally funneling corporate contributions to candidates for the Texas House. Republicans were jazzed about getting more state legislators in office that year because they had successfully redistricted the state to stack the deck in their favor. Before you grumble about gerrymandering, remember the only thing worse than corrupt Texas Republicans are corrupt Texas Democrats, and the map the Republicans had created was just reversing the map created by the Democrats in 1990 that resulted in Democrats winning 70 percent of seats in the state legislature. Seventy percent Democrats… in Texas. So maybe this Republican gerrymandering wasn’t so bad.
Anyway, the jury determined that DeLay used a PAC to take in money from donors and give it to candidates when taking the money directly would have constituted an election law violation. DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison — completing the “House to Big House” journey — which he has yet to serve, while waiting for the appeals process to get going. It would sound insensitive to quip that this lengthy process has taken longer than a death row appeal, but in Texas they could have fried four people in that amount of time. Why? Because Texas likes the death penalty and going home by 5, thank you very much.
DeLay continues to argue that the prosecutor in the case, a Democrat named Ronnie Earle, is engaged in a biased witch-hunt. Given that Earle once filed charges against himself, I’m not going to question his ethics because that’s kind of hardcore.
While DeLay, a former Dancing With the Stars contestant, withdrew from that competition before final judgment, in his criminal appeal judges are withdrawing right and… well, right. DeLay then successfully forced a Democratic judge off the panel for making mean comments about Republicans. If you think this is unfair and just one problem with requiring elected judges to hear political cases, slow your roll. I looked up Henson’s speech and it was a tad more than partisan rhetoric — she asked to be elected specifically so she could rule against DeLay’s appeal. Sometimes recusal is a tricky thing. This was not one of those situations.
At least DeLay is well represented by Houston-based attorney Brian Wice. In his profile for winning “Best Criminal Defense Attorney 2009,” Wice is described as:
a shrinking wallflower who all but refuses to blow his own horn. It can sometimes take up to 2.6 seconds for him to leap at yet another opportunity to expound on the law before a camera…
And he’s lived up to his reputation in this case, taking to the media to passionately compare his client to Jean Valjean, which is fitting because when I think of “stealing a loaf of bread to feed starving children,” I think “career politician and Republican House Majority Leader.”
But now, finally, DeLay will have his day in court (again). It’s hard to believe this will get overturned; DeLay will probably have to go to prison. And in the words of the Texas-based film classic Office Space, if you get caught laundering money you don’t go to the good kind of prison.
But through it all, Tom DeLay has maintained a positive outlook. DeLay said, “I’m ready to go to prison if that’s where I’m supposed to end up.”
Joe Patrice is the author of Recess Appointment, a blog about political rhetoric, and he’ll be dropping in occasionally to write about the intersection of law and politics. To answer the question that you’re probably about to ask, he got his J.D. at NYU and spent ten years working at a Biglaw firm and a white-collar defense boutique. His favorite word is sesquipedalian.